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Chancellor's Blog — Stronger together: UWEC + UWBC

| Chancellor James Schmidt

I am so energized by the wonderful opportunities we have had in the past four weeks to bring UW-Eau Claire and UW-Barron County together. Campus exchanges, lunches with civic leaders, student roundtables and lots of informal calls, emails and visits are helping us get acquainted. (You can see photos of the most recent visit on Facebook.)
That’s important, because navigating change requires partners who know and trust each other. I’m very optimistic that we’re building a foundation that will make our transition highly successful — for our students and for our region. In this blog post, I’d like to share information on where we are now and where faculty, staff and students can find information in the months to come. My pledge to you is that we will be collaborative, transparent and always put our students first.

Working together

We’ve moved quickly to form a Steering Team to guide our process and five Rapid Action Task Forces that already have begun to grapple with the thorny questions involved in joining two unique institutions. I worked with shared governance leaders at both institutions who provided nominations. Each team has representation from both campuses and has faculty, staff and student members. They’ve already started meeting.

Information on the transition can found on the UW-Barron County page in the “About Us” section of UW-Eau Claire’s website. Working documents, including a chart outlining the teams and their responsibilities, as well as a list of the current task force members, are posted in the documents section on the "UWEC + UWBC" SharePoint site. NOTE: This SharePoint site is currently accessible to UW-Eau Claire faculty, staff and students, and we are in the process of setting up access for UW-Barron County faculty and staff. The site will be updated on an ongoing basis by the Steering Team as new information becomes available. UW-Barron County students will receive regular email updates.

Staying focused

Before any of the task forces were formed, we identified six guiding principles for how our process would unfold. You can read them at the end of this blog post. I have asked the teams to focus only on those critical questions that must be addressed to successfully have our new structure in place by July 1. Additional or long-range questions (such as new joint programs) can be determined as the transition unfolds. For now, our key question is, “What do we need to do to be operational by July 1?”

Answers we know

We already have answered some questions. First, our goal is to create a structure that is based on a “branch campus” model. This means that we will preserve our distinctive missions while collaborating on shared services and programs that will create efficiencies, grow enrollment and increase resources. We want to preserve UW-Barron County’s mission of student access, affordability and quality. We want to preserve UW-Eau Claire’s mission of selective enrollment, high-impact practices and quality.

Students can continue to apply to either or both campuses for the coming year. Students will be able to transfer to any UW System institution they choose.

Student segregated fees will remain separate. Tuition will remain as it is now for the next academic year. Courses currently being taught will continue through July 1, and we will look for the best way to provide continuity for current students. UW-Barron County students can be reassured that courses next year will reflect what is currently being offered. We will continue to offer athletics at UW-Barron County and are working with the NCAA to develop an acceptable structure.

Questions we’re working on

I know there have been a lot of questions about how faculty and staff will transition. Will they join UW-Eau Claire departments? What is the tenure process? What will shared governance look like? These questions — and many more — are being worked on now by our task forces. We need a lot more discussion and mutual listening. While we must move quickly, I want to be thoughtful and deliberative in our process. I also want to do everything we can to preserve faculty and staff positions. Since many people have joint appointments, this will take careful study. But our goal is to find a fiscally sustainable way to retain the talented people who call UW-Barron County home.

I’ve been here before

At this week’s student roundtable, one of our students asked me what I’ve learned about transitions, having lived through mergers and disruptions three times at previous institutions. I told her I know what it’s like to be the smaller institution and the fears that go along with that kind of transition. I’m mindful that we need to create strong relationships first, so that we can move forward, together, trusting that both institutions share the same goals and put students first. And most important, I learned that homogenizing both campuses doesn’t work. We will be stronger together by preserving our distinctiveness while finding ways to collaborate and operate more efficiently.

I’m very optimistic about our future together. Given our progress so far, we’re off to a great start!

UWEC + UWBC Transition Principles

  1. Put students first
  2. Preserve and strengthen our distinct missions
  3. Operate with transparency
  4. Proceed with focused speed
  5. Strengthen inclusive excellence
  6. Create a foundation of financial sustainability

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